Warming up with Hot Cocoa

With winter’s cold taking hold this January, I am forever looking for warming drinks and love hot cocoa. While I am usually a coffee drinker, there is something magical about a steaming cup of hot cocoa. Making homemade hot cocoa is well worth it and super easy with countless variations for the entire family.

There is also the debate over hot cocoa vs. hot chocolate. Hot Cocoa uses cocoa powder and produces an intense chocolate flavor. Hot Chocolate melts actual chocolate and produces a rich and creamy drink. Both are amazing, and I encourage you to try them all.

Hot Cocoa:

In a saucepan, mix together

  • ¼ c cocoa powder (I like Dutch processed)

  • ¼ - ½ c sugar, to taste

  • pinch of salt

  • ½ c water

Bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar and cocoa. Then add

  • 4 c milk

Heat to desired temperature, stirring constantly. Do not boil. Stir in

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Hot Chocolate:

Chop or use chocolate chips.

  • 8 oz chocolate (Can use white chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or any combination that you like.)

In a saucepan, heat to a simmer

  • 2 c milk

  • 2 c half and half

Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. When melted, reheat gently and add

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

As a tip, you can use any type of milk you want. We drink skim at home so I mix skim and cream to have a richer drink. Top with whipped cream or marshmallows.

Now comes the fun part ~ You can add countless extracts, spirits, or liqueurs to customize as you want. Classics like Bailey’s, Amaretto, Crème de Menthe, Chambord, Grand Marnier, Kahlúa, Bourbon, Brandy… The list goes on and on. For non-alcoholic options, add extracts or mix in crushed candy canes or caramels while heating so they melt. Stirring in Nutella, peanut butter, or espresso powder are all delish.

5 Elegant Hot Cocoa Variations:


Make 1 cup raspberry puree by bringing 2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries to a boil with ½ c sugar. Blend and Strain through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth. You should be left with about 1 c. Add to the hot cocoa or hot chocolate when you add the vanilla.

This method works with any berry. Use white chocolate and glass mugs to show off the colors. Also nice in fall with our pumpkin puree.

The following variations are all made by steeping flavors into the milk before adding the chocolate. As the first step, add desired herbs and spices to the milk and bring to a simmer. Cover, remove from the heat and cover the pan. Let sit for 5 – 10 minutes and strain.


Add 1-2 tsp lavender buds. Remember from our Sherry post, be careful using lavender and experiment to find how strong a flavor you like. This is one of my favorites!


Add 4 quarter-sized slices fresh ginger, 3 cinnamon sticks, 6 allspice berries, 6 whole cloves, 3 peppercorns, ½ tsp nutmeg, and ¼ tsp lemon zest. After steeping, add 1 Tbsp molasses with the chocolate. These are really bold flavors that can overpower white or milk chocolate.


Add the zest of one orange. I like this best with dark chocolate and a splash of brandy. This is also perfect with a dash or two of cinnamon and/or espresso powder.


Add 1-2 cinnamon sticks and 1 dried chili. If using the dried chili is too spicy, try just a pinch of chili powder. The classic Aztec drink was very think and whipped. I make this using the hot chocolate recipe 12oz of dark chocolate. After heating, use a whisk or blender to achieve a frothy texture.

If you want to be truly decadent, make your own marshmallows. Homemade marshmallows are light, fluffy, and light years away from store bought. I recommend starting with Martha Stewart's basic vanilla then playing around with other options like toasted coconut or peppermint. One Christmas, I made Saveur's strawberry, chocolate, and orange as teachers' gifts. They were easy and fun for the kids.

#winespecialist #libations #pastrychef #entertaining #cocktails #dceventplanner #pumpkin #dceventdesigner #recipe #cocoa #chocolate #tips

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